What’s Wrong With Internet Marketing

Published 4 years ago - 25 Comments

Here’s how most of the Internet marketing industry works, you know, the guys who sell you courses packed with the latest tricks…

  • They get “NEW” insights into something that seems to work, whether a way to get traffic, or to increase conversions.
  • These insights are often learned from books, from their own experience, or from each other’s experience.
  • Then, they offer to share that information with you in return for some of your money.

So far, so fair, right? People who have information that other people need should be able to sell that valuable information for a profit.

I agree with you. Except, in this Wild West frontier land of Internet marketing, you usually find two all-too-common factors.

They are anecdotal fallacy, and manipulation. Let me explain my problems with these.

Anecdotal fallacy

People who sell Internet Marketing need you to believe that they’ve got something secret and amazing, which would change your life if you knew it. They need you to perceive a “knowledge divide”.

Unfortunately, human nature, the way we think, the way we buy and sell, and the way we respond to messages, is pretty much the same as it was two or ten or a thousand generations ago. Most of the heavy lifting of marketing theory was done in the last century. We’ve pretty much got it figured out.

So the Internet marketing gurus need to find a way to make you believe they’ve found a secret that nobody else knows. Here’s one great way to do that.

Anecdotal fallacy is the name given to a logical error, in which you could take some isolated evidence out of context then claim that it proves a general point. In other words,

Look, this worked for me, that means it will work for you too!

One of the clearest examples of this was a product I bought from Ryan Deiss, called “43 Split Tests”. Ryan sold this as a product about five years ago, I bought it out of curiosity, and found it’s full of some of the most misleading information I’ve ever seen.

Here’s an example, taken straight from Ryan’s site:

Background Color

Here’s another variable we get asked about time and time again. For some reason, people are just fascinated with the psychology behind background colors.

We were too, so we tested this variable pretty extensively. Robin’s egg blue (Hex={6495ED}) was the clear winner. We actually saw a 31% increase in conversions over dark backgrounds. White and gray backgrounds are also effective.

Robin’s egg blue is the optimal background color

Robin’s egg blue is the optimal background color

What’s wrong with this? It’s taking data gathered in one context, and stating categorically that the result is universal. Note the comment under the image:

Robin’s egg blue is the optimal background color

This is a clear example of the anecdotal fallacy. I’ll be the first to acknowledge they may have tested this on thousands of visitors, and maybe got thousands of conversions. But the first thing to point out is, these tests were all run in a certain context, probably on certain types of sales pages or squeeze pages, using a particular target audience. So there’s zero reason to claim, “Robin’s egg blue is the optimal background color,” as though it is a general rule.

You can see another way in which this section of the report is obviously trying to mislead, in order to make its results seem credible and impressive.

It’s this quote…

We actually saw a 31% increase in conversions over dark backgrounds.

I’ve run hundreds of split tests, for a range of clients and on a range of different sites. I have never seen an example of any design change — never mind something as irrelevant as background colour — have that kind of impact.

Here’s what they should say…

We also tried a dark background on these pages, which was disastrous because conversions dropped by a quarter.

(If they were honest. Which they’re not.)

Here’s more smokescreen text, designed to fool you into assuming there really are easy wins on sale. The report goes on to say…

White and gray backgrounds are also effective.

What does that mean? I bet it means that white and gray backgrounds were comparably successful as the pale blue. This is almost certainly true. And I doubt there was any significant difference between them. So all it’s really telling you is that light, plain backgrounds are boring and don’t distract from the real content, but they did find a way to make their pages work worse (by testing dark backgrounds).

In my book, that’s just lying. And it’s lying in order to fool well-meaning professionals and business owners into handing over hard-earned cash for products that are unscientific and deliver little nutritional value.


If you cut this new Internet Marketing sector down the middle, you’ll be hit with an overpowering stench of manipulation. Manipulation in marketing means trying to get people to buy stuff they don’t need, which won’t improve their lives, by making them think it will.

Most Internet marketing gurus aren’t experts in marketing. They’re experts in manipulation, obsessed with parting people with their money at all costs, instead of getting on with the important work of building a better world for all.

Now, all the manipulation tactics are based on real psychology, have been around for a long time, and they all tend to work.

My problem is, they tend to work for reasons that only make sense in the short-term, and I’m interested in helping people to build sustainable businesses, not grab short-term profits at any cost.

I’m sure you’ll recognise many of the tricks below…

The Manipulation Formula

Here’s a bunch of examples of the kind of language

  • “New!”
    They’ve stumbled across a new “insight” that they’ve been secretly testing. You could be among the first to take advantage of it. (Of course, if something really IS new, or innovative, why not say so. But it doesn’t take much to be able to claim something is new, does it?)
  • “Exclusive!”
    They’re offering insider information, which only a few people know. We all like to be invited into the VIP area. It makes us feel important. But what if you realise the whole club is the VIP area?
  • “Limited availability!”
    This is the False Scarcity con. If they’re claiming to offer this only to the first 100 people, that’s pure manipulation. They want to sell as many as possible, and they know that the perceived fear of losing the opportunity will persuade you to buy now. (And if you don’t buy now, just wait for the stream of emails explaining why they’ve been forced to make just a few extra places because of the huge demand.)
  • “Must End at Midnight!”
    This is the False Urgency hustle. Jeff Walker’s “Product Launch Formula” is the classic example of this. Instead of simply offering something to the world, come up with a reason to make it available for just a short period. Build up to the launch window, then throw everything at persuading people to grab their credit card before they lose out.
  • “This is Working Like Crazy!”
    We’re all looking for cheat codes in life… the magic chat-up line, the incredible penis enlargement herb, the one weird trick to a flat stomach… anything that promises easy, instant, or magical results. Anything that sounds too good to be true is probably too good to be true. (Anyone can make a campaign seem to be incredibly profitable with a big enough budget thrown at it, and these guys have big budgets.)
  • “If You Aren’t Using These Tiny Tweaks That Can Make All the Difference…”
    This is playing on your fear of loss, combined with the doubt and curiosity generated by tiny changes that can deliver big results.
  • “Everyone is Jumping On This!”
    This variant of the popularity factor has been around for ever. It uses slightly different psychology to the “exclusive” tactic, but it’s also working on the fear of being excluded. Tell a prospect that something is popular makes it seem like the safe option. (It’s probably more effective on mainstream markets, whereas early adopters would respond better to novelty and exclusivity.)
  • “People Just Like You Are Making Money on Autopilot”
    They’ll present evidence of how other people have made easy money, just by following the simple steps. Of course, you don’t get to see people who tried it and didn’t make a penny.
  • “Wait! Don’t leave this page!”
    Exit popups are just annoying. Do you really want to annoy somebody into becoming a customer? (I realised I actually had one of these running on a free product download page, so I removed it!)
  • “Was $12,000… Now only $97”
    Of course, the fake discount. Again, this isn’t exclusive to Internet marketers, even regular retailers pull this scam. Remember, just because something was on sale at a previous price doesn’t mean anyone bought it.

Here’s An Example I Got In My Email This Morning

Frank Kern is an extremely successful Internet Marketer (see what he’s earned), who ran an intensive launch a few months ago. I didn’t sign up for the (four-figure?) product, but I followed his tactics with interest.

I was slightly surprised to see the first email from that launch sequence arrive in my inbox again today, and immediately noticed several of the tricks I mention in the list above, so for fun let’s highlight a few of them.


Overall, you can see what this email is doing. It’s hinting that there’s easy money to be made — something for nothing. And there is easy money to be made (for Frank at least!) by using untruths, by playing on people’s psychological weaknesses, laziness, and jealousy. Frank’s very good at using all that to make serious money, and if making money at any cost is “success” in your book, then I recommend you go and study from Frank. (Here’s another interesting analysis of one of his sequences.)

But here’s my question for you…

  • Do you want to make money by manipulating your customers’ emotions in order to get them to do something they may regret?
  • Or do you want to help build a world where everyone shares what really works, improves everyone’s lives, and will do so for the long term?

I love small business, forward-thinking organisations, and entrepreneurs. These are the true heroes, who are really making the world a better place by delivering honest and fair products and services to the people who really need them.

For me, I actually think it’s morally wrong, and short-sighted, to pimp out any knowledge that can really help these heroes.

That’s why I’ve chosen do what I can for them, irrespective of their immediate ability to pay, and make all my courses and materials available for free.

A Better Way

Most Internet marketers are professional manipulators. They spend their time making bigger and bolder promises to part you with your cash, only to sell back to you the latest tricks they devised to do it!

They want you to think that only they can offer the path to true success. They can’t. They may help you to make some money, after they’ve made some from you of course, and if you’re willing to become imitations of them.

They want you to think it’s complicated, and then they want you to believe they’ve got shortcuts, hacks, cheats, a magic bullet, which of course you can have for a price.

I’ll confess, I’ve been suckered in once or twice. I’ve felt that sense of sickness, that other people are making tons of money using these methods, that maybe I’m failing to be everything I can if I don’t join them.

I’ve felt that little rush of adrenaline when I hear them use the language of “killing it” and “crushing it”…

But then I realised that what they’re referring to is me, and you.

I don’t want to manipulate, with artificial constraints or fluffed-up claims. I’m happy to give first, and to trust that most people are basically good and honest.

You know what? You don’t have to manipulate in order to build a following. You can be honest, truthful, transparent, and vulnerable.

Everyone out there has a heart, and we’re all looking for people and things we can trust and believe in.

Here are some simpler truths about marketing, all without manipulation.

Marketing is challenging, but the most important fundamentals are the same as they’ve ever been. The most important challenges are figuring out who you are, what you really want to do with your life, what you want to mean to the world, and what your customers mean to you.

Get those basics right, and maybe you’ll find true success.

Of course, there are new channels appearing constantly, more today than at any time in history. But you don’t have to jump on them all. This week’s trick is a hack to “get tons of traffic” from Pinterest. (That technique, by the way, may be totally inappropriate for your business.)

There are no secret tricks you have to master. There are no magic beans. You can do it.

The secret is in the magic marketing beans. Plant them, under the right conditions, look after them, and they’ll grow, naturally. Just get the basics right. Then you’ll grow your own produce, which doesn’t just mean profits, but customers, followers, who are all part of the ecosystem, and who – if treated right – can generate more customers and followers…

And so it goes on.